Sunday, January 29, 2017

How Did It Go?

I got hit with a case of the dry heaves when I walked into the exhibition hall. There I stood, in my slept in clothes, getting out of my slept in vehicle, with a display made up of bricks and lumber and fabric, walking through the likes of Penguin Random House, Disney Books, Scholastic to set up my wares. I felt, for only the second time since I started doing this and definitely the most extreme, like an imposter. I mean, listen, I know there are small presses here locally whose owners don’t like me. Still, I don’t have a problem walking into a room where they are and setting up shop, because I know that I deserve to be there, every bit as much as most and more than some. I know there are authors who don’t much care for my hawking, but I don’t feel out of place. Here, I waited for sirens and lights to go off, for someone to catch on to the fact that I obviously, patently didn’t belong. I Messaged librarian friends, looking for reassurance. I put some vague panicked messages on Facebook. Then, I set up my booth and we did what we do. Since then, people have been asking me how it went, and the honest answer is, “I don’t know.”

I don’t know because this weekend wasn’t about ready sales. Sales on the spot. Foolishly, I had thought it would be. One man laughed. “Did you think they were going to buy for their libraries on the spot?” Uh, yeah, actually I did. In fact, in the world in which I’ve cut my teeth, we have a term for those who say they will buy later. We call them bebacks and they are generally dealt with with a roll of the eyes or worse. In this environment, though, I had an intelligent, charming man next to me who was giving books away for FREE who got shot down because the participants didn’t want to have to carry the book. (This man was Chris Beakey, by the way. Awesome man. Excellent writer.You can find him here.)  So, I’m watching sales slowly trickle in. Not huge, but they are happening.

I don’t know because I have some prospects on the line that could change our publishing house in huge ways. But I don’t know if they will turn into anything or not. I came home from Printer’s Row Literary Festival convinced that I had made the kind of connections that would change our world, and they were nothing. Yet, I have people reaching out to me. People saying that we were the highlight of the event for them. Did you get that? A veritable smorgasboard of free books, authors doing signings, Neal Freaking Patrick Harris, John Lewis, and I was the highlight? I. .. don’t really know how to deal with that. Especially when, as I said, I felt like such an imposter. I can’t talk more about them now, not until they are done deals, but there’s some potentially exciting things happening.
I don’t know because while I thought I was an imposter, other people were amazed by our story. By the tenacity and grit that we’ve shown. Not everyone. We had eyes rolled at us more than once by academics who informed us that speculative fiction isn't "real" fiction. I had one woman told us our books are ordinary. Still, I made some friends, business aside, that I truly hope to keep in touch with. More than that, I was told over and over again what an inspiration we were. Which was really different from the “I” word that I had in mind.

It was not ready money. Financially, at least for the short term, it was a bit of a bust. It was emotionally and physically exhausting. But by the end of the weekend I could breathe because we did it. .And we did it well. So, how did it go? I don’t know, but I think it went all right. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What do You Say to Your Children?

I watched, last night, as something truly frightening happened. I also watched as my news feed was flooded with people saying "what do I say to my children?" I've been thinking about that a lot. I'm not a political expert; I'm not an expert of parenting, but years of dealing with a hurtful, sexist, homophobic, selfish dictator of my own taught me some things. Raising a child who was rented out for medical students to practice on taught me some things. Helping my tender-hearted son and my autistic son navigate the world has taught me some things. I'm going to share those now. I hope they help.

First of all, if you told them that Hillary was definitley going to win, or even probably going to win, if  you made plans with them based on what you would do when Hillary won, your first step is to apologize to them. You had no way of backing up that promise or assurance, other than speculation from an admittedly slanted media. So if they are let down because this was in any chance broadcasted to them as a certainty, you are on the hook for that. So you apologize for making a promise you had no power to keep, you take responsibility for your part in their disappointment, and you try not to do that again.

Secondly, if  you are a person of faith, any faith, you lean on that. I don't care what faith it is. I'm pretty sure there is something in your texts or beliefs about balance, about caring for others, about finding peace. Find those things. Try to do them. Try to believe them. It's hard sometimes. But it helps.

Next, you remind them that you will protect them. That you will physically stand in the gap when you are able, That when you are not able to be there physically, you will make sure that there are support personnel there, a team, to keep them safe. Educate them on steps to take if they feel frightened or unsafe (as an aside, the need to do this is not new to this election; I've been doing it for years). Then give them the mental, emotional, and physical tools they need to protect themselves. Build an amazing foundation, take self-defense classes, spend time together talking, create family rules regarding respect. When my daughter had grown men making fun of her because of her disability, I taught her how to pretend to fall and use her canes to smack them between the legs. When we had racial slurs graffitoed on our playhouse, I painted over them and talked to my kids about why people would feel like they needed to do that. When it still wasn't safe, we moved. My son is having issues now that he is discovering, for the first time, that autism is considered by many to be a bad thing. We are working with a therapist, a counselor, a psychiatrist, and two teachers to solve this problem. That's what you do. You protect them.

Then, you remind them that we are all, individually, responsible for taking care of each other. So, if you're scared for your Muslim friends, join an interfaith community, keep tabs on events, and participate. Ask your LGBT friends how to be an ally. Feed the homeless. Stand at Standing Rock. Volunteer at a Domestic Violence shelter. Do your part to make sure the children you raise know to love and respect all people, to stand up for the least among us. Do it by showing them, by telling them, by living it not just with words in your family but in how you act.

Finally, you educate yourself on how this happened. I see so many people shaking their heads today and asking "how."  I remember doing that at the end of my first marriage. Wondering how I got there. So I did research. Really researched signs of emotional and mental abuse, how it started, how it advanced, how it affected people. I mean, the situation was textbook once I did my research, and this one is as well. Research how people act when they feel unheard and the pendulum effect. Research ogliarchy. Research what happens when the establishment has predetermined candidates. Research three party systems. Research voter turnout. Know what happened so in four years you can do your part to make sure it doesn't again. Because when you know those things, this really isn't that much of a surprise. Disheartening, sure, but not a surprise. Situations like this are all over history.

So, what do we do? We hold each other close.  We apologize, pray, protect, act, and educate. And know that this too, shall pass. It may pass like a gallstone, but it will pass. I've seen gloom and doom predicted from George Sr. to now and while bad things have happened, we are still standing. We will continue to stand. Let's stand together.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Inspiration Vs. Replication

It's NaNoWriMo, and that means that authors everywhere are flocking to their computers to. .. write blogs, to "research," to engage in social marketing. In other words, we are flocking to our computers to do anything other than write our wretched, soul-sucking novels. The novels that we would be overjoyed to write any other time but suddenly feel the weight, the pressure, of a deadline.

I am no exception.

But I figure in my attempt to escape my lagging word count, I can talk about some things that we, as writers, face.

When you're a writer, some people assume that everything in your books is about them. I've had more than one family member get angry with me about things that I have written. Sometimes they had been the inspiration. More often not. I realized long ago that I wouldn't convince them either way, so I smile in a way that is meant to be enigmatic but most likely just looks gassy. Ah well, you can't have everything. My point is, that while we aren't necessarily just waiting to paint you as a caricature in our next novel, we are always listening. We are making mental and sometimes physical notes. We are gaining inspiration however and whenever we can

And usually that's what it is. It is inspiration. We use it to further the plot, to add nuance to a character. We use it to create the feel that we want, to make YOU feel what we want you to. Sometimes, though, far more rarely, inspiration becomes replication. We forget, somehow, that what we are writing is fiction. We get too close. We are working through something or we really want you to feel how we felt in that moment.

I have been struggling with that, lately. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, writing the second book in my series, when another story started tugging like a fishhook in my brain. This story is that of the one and only lost girl to be in Neverland. This story incorporates Pan as he actually was. Sure, he was fun-loving. He was also manipulative, arrogant, and a murderer. Yes, you read that right. If the lost boys displeased him, he was not above "thinning them out." So, anyhow this lost girl somehow finds herself as the caretaker of a bunch of Pan's castaways. While Pan doesn't want the responsibility of taking care of these boys, he doesn't like that she is doing it and therein the conflict lies. It took me a solid month of writing this book to realize why it was bothering me, why it had to be written. Once I saw it (and recovered from the "duh" moment of why I didn't see this from the beginning) I knew why it was with me. From that moment, though, my inspiration keeps trying to edge over into replication. Every time that happens, I start to get lost, bogged down. That character, he needs to do a certain thing to advance the plot but he can't because my son wouldn't do that. That character must be defeated, but the scene is taking me a weeks to write because I keep getting really anxious whenever I write it. I can't hurt that character because he is based on my other son.

I know I'm not the only one who does this. I know of a writer who had based the main love interest in one of her novels on her boyfriend. When the relationship ended, she couldn't bring herself to finish the book for over a year. Another author started a book based on her five children. Then she had two more. She didn't know what to do, because adding more kids made the story unwieldy but she didn't want the younger two to feel left out.

I don't have an answer to this. I just know that we cannot fall into this trap. Our writing suffers, first and foremost because we get bogged down and it slows our writing. Our writing also suffers because we are too busy staying true to reality to stay true to the story. It makes for a worse story that takes too long to come out. But once it is in our mind, compartmentalizing becomes more difficult. So, tell me, what tricks do you use to separate the two?

And now, I feel like I've procrastinated long enough. I have three kids stuck on the top of a cliff. I'll look forward to reading your comments below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Back up the Rabbit Hole

Life is sometimes about hard decisions. Sometimes you have so many things that you love that you can't do them all. That's not a bad problem to have. I mean, I'd rather have to deal with that then find myself falling into ennui or apathy. Still, lately I tried to take on too much and didn't know it until it was too late. I fell. Flat on my face. So then I had to reevaluate. Let me tell you about the rabbit hole I found myself in, and what I'm going to do about it.

I wrote a book. Well, I wrote two. They were both published by publishers who did not comport themselves in the best of manners. So, when the second one went south, I decided that I may not be the best publisher. I didn't, at the time, know much about the process, but I knew that I would never give up on the people who had trusted me. I would never quit. Also, I realized that I was the only one who would work as hard for me as was desired. So, to become a better author, I became a publisher.

And I loved it. I do love it still. There's nothing like helping get good books seen, helping make dreams come through. Well, then we grew. And we grew. It became clear that I couldn't grow more without dedicating more time to it, and I didn't have enough time to give. At the same time, my then-husband said that he didn't know how I could expect him to dedicate time to our marriage with him working full time. My sadness with our marriage made me short with the kids.  So, to become a better publisher and a better wife, and a better mother I became a Rennie.

And I loved it. I loved it so much. I loved the people. I loved the travel. I loved the pride and the community and the long days in the sun. The books were doing well. However, between royalties and restocking we were making quite a bit but not quite enough. So, I came up with the idea of the absinthe business. I came up with the recipes and found the sources and made up some business cards and I became an absinthery to be a better Rennie.

Then my marriage imploded. So, I had to get a real-live house and put the kids in public school. My daughter's health got significantly worse. I fell in love. I tried running the absinthe business remotely.I tried working faire and then going back and trying to keep up my house. I found that I wasn't doing any of it well. It was too much. I was letting people down. I felt stretched thin, with one foot in too many worlds.  In other words, being an absinthery was taking away from being a mom, and a wife, and a publisher. Weird how that worked. I love being a publisher. I love being a mom. I really hope that I'm a good wife. I loved being a Rennie, but it doesn't fit right now, and of the things I love, I loved that the least. Given the choice between pride and travel and doing what's best for my kids, well that isn't a choice at all. And the absinthe. I never liked that. I liked the money. I liked that I had done something to support my family. But teh business itself. Meh. So, I've found a new direction. I've rededicated myself to the things I love the most. I'm not sure how it will work, but I feel better having made the decision at last.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Defying Gravity

It's been a hell of a year, and it doesn't show any signs of letting up anytime soon. Some things are good, and some things are bad, and some are incredible. Either way I'm going somewhere new, and exciting, and a little bit scary. So, I'm discovering some things about myself, about what I think and feel and like, about what I can achieve and what I cannot, and about what I really want. I'm going to share some of those things. Not because I'm looking for either pity or accolades, and not because I'm looking to villianize anyone. I'm going to share because I feel like there are thoughts and experiences that people need to hear, because these things affect me as a writer, and because I need to get this out. Is that okay? Are you ready? Will you come with me? Here goes.

I watched Glee yesterday. I'm watching it now, in fact. This is a big deal for me. Not because I'm overly attached to television shows. Except for one. And really, how often can you watch 14 episodes? But, you see, I've only watched one and a half episodes before this. Which is odd, when you think about it. I mean, pithy lines, ensemble cast, great music, and the art nerds. If ever there a show that seemed me, this was it. But, you see, it wasn't allowed. I couldn't watch Glee because, as I was told, it was contributing to the Overton window effect on our society and the kids would see it and what message was that sending them and so on and so forth. I didn't agree. I don't now. Not about Glee and not about the deeper issues behind it. I was allowed to not agree and to have my own opinions, but only if I followed the rules, you see. But I love Glee.I love musicals.  I love being an ally.

It goes deeper than a TV show, though, as fabulous as this show is. A couple of months ago, I got to baptize two of my kids. They asked me to, and I don't know if I've had many prouder moments than that. I was terrified, though, and sought a lot of guidance. You see, I wasn't allowed to baptize my kids because I was a woman and that wasn't a woman's role. That's what I'd been told, anyway. But I did, because I could, and a whole slew of fellow Christians cheered and shouted. Mostly for my children and what their commitment meant, of course, but I like to think that a little bit had to do with being happy for and proud of me.

Also, extracurriculars. I get to take my kids to those. That wasn't ever forbidden, not that one. It was just that I would sign them up and get them to practice and then . . priorities would change  Because, you see, sports were a waste of time. They didn't benefit anything and it lead to adults who were "stuck in their high school glory days." So we'd miss practice and then I'd get all anxious because I know it is important to be consistent and I felt bad and well, Duncan would see that he didn't HAVE to go and it would be a fight and, well, we'd end up fading out. But you know what I think? I think group activities are important. I think they teach kids how to work within a community and how to follow rules. I think they teach kids how to be consistent and dedicated, and follow through even when they don't want to.

I wrote this morning. Not one of my big project. Just something that got stuck in my head that I wanted to play around with. Now listen, there was support for my writing. I'm not saying there wasn't. But I was once told that I looked "vaguely retarded" when I was writing in my head. Another time I was told that artists were expendable. That it wasn't understood why actors and such got paid so much, because what they contributed was completely unnecessary to society. So, every time I wrote I felt self-conscious, and guilty. Like there were better things that I should be doing. But I wrote today.

When the divorce was filed, and especially when it was final, people told me I was free. But, I never felt free. I had to go off the road, and felt really bogged down by the minutiae of having a house with all of the obligations and time that goes with it. I had to enroll the kids in school, and that left me feeling even more trapped. No more random trips, being told when I could and could not pick them up and so on. Anyhow, I didn't feel free. Then, I realized the other day, all the ways that I am. It's not about where I can go. It's not about what I can do. It's about who I can be. I can be me. I can think what I want and I can say what I think and I can tell people how I feel. I can have my passions and not have them belittled. That, my friends, is freedom. That is flying. That is defying gravity.

Friends, don't let anyone clip your wings. Listen, people make comments sometimes that hurt. Even when they love you. Especially when they love you, because truly if you don't care about the person what they say doesn't that have much of an impact, right? It's important, once apologies are made, to move on. And in any relationship, rules and standards are important. But, if someone is making you feel badly about being you, if you find yourself not being allowed, or being scuttled in your attempts to do things that you think are important, that's not okay. That's not love. And you deserve more. Me, I'm going to try flying. After this episode. It's the one where they do ballads.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Headlines. They are designed from their very inception to grab your attention, to compel you to feel one thing or another. “British Scientist Cures Aids!” “Brad Pitt Devastated at Abuse Allegations.” “Hillary Clinton Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease!” I mean, look at that right there; elation, sad indignation and shock respectively. Maybe you want to find out more. If you care enough about the people and the issues. If you have enough time between all the minutiae or even maxutiae of your life, that is. If nothing else draws your attention more. Otherwise, you move along, content with the somewhat cathartic experience that was having felt something about a statement.
And listen, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sensationalism sells and clickbait is a thing and as long as no one is getting hurt then go ahead. Hit that headline. You know, I wrote for a while for a “multi-source online news aggregate.” It hurt my soul every time, but I did it because money is necessary and all of that. But you know, the more sensational the headline, the more clicks I got. It’s human nature, for better or worse. I don’t even feel like there’s anything wrong with that short burst of catharsis, either. We sometimes need to feel little, fleeting bits of something. It’s a nice change from the larger, real emotions that come with dealing with reality. Except. ..
Except that people have started speaking in headlines, too. Facebook. Twitter. Whole conversations that are nothing but summarizations of an event with added emotion and an exclamation point for punch. Except, that with that people have stopped looking deeper. And that’s where the problem lies. I have an ex-husband. He used to say that one of his favorite parts of being a soldier is that it made for better headlines. You know “United States Soldier Imprisioned for Not Fastening Seatbelt.” Or “National Guardsmen Left Unable to Serve Due to Dishonest Mechanic.” “Deployed Soldier Victim of Usery.” He would say this often and while true, it exemplifies everything that is wrong with headlines.
1.       While technically true, headlines are not the whole story. The proof is in the pudding. The devil is in the details. Use whatever metaphor you like, but we all know that an incomplete truth is a lie and that’s what a headline is. It is a snippet of the truth. If you don’t read on, you don’t know the whole story. To go back to the beginning of the post, we don’t know that in reality the first member of a trail group has gone through their first test since treatment and is showing negative for the AIDS virus. We don’t know that Brad Pitt is going along with anything and everything suggested by the professionals in order to show that he is not abusive and to help his kids. We don’t know that the doctor who “diagnosed” Hillary has never actually treated the woman. We don’t know. And that’s not on the one who wrote the headline. That’s on us. It’s on us to care enough to inform ourselves and not be content with catharsis.
2.       They are INTENTIONALLY spun to make you feel something. You are being manipulated. You are. Chemicals and endorphins are being caused to flow and if you don’t take a minute to step back, if you just reply with a headline of your own, then more chemicals flow without facts. And more. And more. And we as a society have a tendency for “topping,” which makes it all that much worse. It becomes all feeling and no facts.
3.       Than, after all the feeling is done, and the half-truths are told, these things are then passed on as truth. Without any of the research being done. Because at the end of the day we are emotion junkies and we want to be important and the only thing better for some people than getting juicy news is GIVING juicy news. And sometimes, people take these emotion-driven half truths and act on them. They actually take action based on a headline that is now fourth hand information. 

But folks, there are PEOPLE behind those headlines. That’s twofold. There are people writing the headlines, and they have their own intentions. You deserve to have something real. A real opinion. A real emotion. Based on the real story. YOU DESERVE THAT.  The person writing the headline is probably serving themselves. Which isn't a problem, as long as there's an article that follows. Except ever increasingly there isn't.  More importantly, though, there are people ABOUT WHOM YOU ARE WRITING THE HEADLINES. Those people? They deserve for you to take the time as well. You are ruining these people’s reputations. You are hurting their feelings. You are making their life more difficult and if you think it doesn’t matter you’re flat wrong. It does. And if you care enough to use them for your own little emotional high, you should care enough to fact check a little bit. Otherwise, you’re just hurting them for your own thrill.
Harsh? Maybe. But I’ve heard about a lot of headlining going on about me, some from people I respected. Were the things they were saying true? Technically, yes. Sometimes. By the thinnest of margins. But was it the whole story? Not even close. Was there anything to be gained by their actions? Not really. Did it suck? Wholeheartedly. While I understand the wisdom of never arguing with a fool, for the reasons that people wiser than me have said, and while a dear dear friend pointed me towards Exodus 14:14 and I've been clinging to that, and while Dr. Seuss that "those who mind don't matter and those that matter don't mind" or something like that, it's hard. And frustrating. 

So, as you move about your day, sometimes in 140 characters or a talk to text Facebook message, please consider if you are headlining or being headlined.

Because we all deserve more than that. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Talk to Me

This post started, in my head at least, last week when I was sent a picture from Fandom Fest. The picture was of Slave Leia. Male Slave Leia. Not a gender-swapped version,though if someone wanted to do that I'd love to see it. But a male. Dressed as Slave Leia. Now, I've met MSL at this event in previous years, and he's a nice enough guy. Quiet. A little shy. There to be silly with friends, with whom he occasionally gets loud. But he's always been polite when I've interacted with him. In this picture that I was sent, he was wearing white leggings. Rumor has it, (and let's take this with a shakerfull of salt because I wasn't there and I don't know), that he was wearing the leggings because there were complaints about his level of nudity.

Um, what?  I mean, if he'd been asked not to do this because it's now 2016 and dressing as the opposite gender isn't a joke anymore, then I guess I could understand.  If he'd been asked not to do this because Carrie Fisher was there and disapproved, okay. Though, she saw him last year and to the best of my knowledge was a good sport. But, as I understand, he was asked to do this because people were offended at his amount of skin. At a con. He was showing too much skin. Listen, I sometimes get a little uncomfortable about the kiddos who just want an autograph from one of their heroes next to Nearly Naked Poison Ivy, or Harley Quinn Whose Clothes Were Apparently Eaten By Acid, but the simple fact is that there's a lot of almost naked at a con. I've never seen, at this particular event, someone get called out before. But this guy did.

So, I've been pondering this for a few days when along comes Orlando Bloom's Wang. Yep, Orlando Bloom was naked and someone took pictures and shared them without consent and everyone is acting like this is somehow a gift handed down from God Himself. Unabashedly sharing links and discussing this man's penis. That was shown to the world by someone else.

Okay, so there's no such thing as reverse racism and I imagine there's no such thing as reverse sexism, but here's the thing. ..

If women can show a lot of leg or butt or nipple and it's okay because we are enlightened now, then a little bit of manthigh, or a lot a bit of manthigh surely isn't a problem is it? I understand rape culture and #yesallwomen and the Schroedinger Rapist and these things are real. But thigh? The potential for a glimpse of penis? On the other hand, another penis is being lauded. If Jennifer Lawrence was violated and everyone who saw the pictures or thought it was the price of celebrity is a horrible person, shouldn't the same apply now? I mean, I guess. .. I guess I don't understand.

So, enlighten me? Talk to me. What's the difference? Because right now, from where I'm standing, this is a problem.